Blue Wave in Texas? Not So Fast.

Beto O’Rourke gets his best poll yet, and some bad news too.

Beto O'Rourke

James Durbin/Associated Press

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

On Tuesday, followers of America’s most-polled Senate race got a new toy to play with: A Quinnipiac survey gave Republican Sen. Ted Cruz a nine-point lead, the biggest margin anyone’s found for months. Then, on Wednesday morning, a new poll. This one, from Reuters and the University of Virginia, shows something entirely different: that O’Rourke is on top for the first time ever. The survey, conducted over basically the same period, has O’Rourke up by two points, 47–45, even as the broader slate of polls offered mixed results for Democrats across the board. (It showed them trailing in must-win races in Nevada and Florida.) O’Rourke got his best news yet—one day after he got his worst news.

But something else happened on Tuesday night that has ramifications for the November elections. In a heavily Hispanic San Antonio-based state Senate district long held by Democrats, Republican Pete Flores won a surprise special-election victory to replace a Democrat who was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison for his involvement with a company that ran a Ponzi scheme. These things happen, and special elections—especially runoff special elections—are fluky, but Flores was running for state Senate against Pete Gallego, the district’s former Democratic congressman. Gallego may be an underwhelming campaigner, but it was a race the party should have won.

Making matters worse for Democrats, the district Flores won is now part of Republican Rep. Will Hurd’s 23rd congressional district, which was carried handily by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has become a top target for the Democratic Party this fall. On paper, it’s the single most-winnable seat in Texas, but a recent New York Times poll showed Hurd with a significant lead over his challenger, Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones. Flores’ victory won’t make Democrats feel any better about their chances.

There’s not a clear through-line between the three aforementioned data points. One seems good for progressives, two seem bad. But six weeks out from election day it’s fair to say that Texas Democrats, who have been out of contention for so long, are operating on a much shakier playing field than their compatriots are in other states.

Not only has most of the state not been electing Democrats for many years, but many of the places that have been electing Democrats—like San Antonio and South Texas, where O’Rourke really needs to juice turnout for his inroads elsewhere to pay off—are plagued by low turnout and middling political machines.

This has always been the catch when Democrats talk about efforts to “turn Texas blue.” Solving the problem that is Texas requires a lot more than numbers on paper; it means really grappling with the foundational work of civic engagement. O’Rourke and his traveling, jogging, Facebook-streaming roadshow have given Texas Democrats the kind of jolt they haven’t had in years. But hope is one thing; rebuilding a machine from scratch is something else.

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate